The opportunity to attend preschool shouldn’t come down to luck

4-year-old Amelia on her first day of kindergarten

by Diana Onken


Last Monday was my daughter Amelia’s first day of kindergarten. She wore a new outfit especially picked out for this day. She’s been both nervous and excited about what’s to come. And she’s my youngest so I’ve been nervous, too (and perhaps a little weepy).

Beyond the clichés of how fast time goes (it really does!) is the recognition that my daughter is lucky.

She’s lucky because she was fortunate to attend a quality preschool in our small town. And now she’s reading, adding and subtracting. She knows shapes and colors and how to share (most days).

But the opportunity to attend a quality preschool shouldn’t come down to luck. A child’s future shouldn’t depend on being born to a middle-class family that can figure out how to pay for the high cost of preschool.

The opportunity to attend preschool should be something every child has. Yet between 2010 and 2012, 4.4 million children didn’t have the same opportunity my daughter had.

The research is clear. Investing in early childhood education helps kids achieve more during their school years and later in life. This is especially true for low-income children who may not grow up in a home that can afford books or has access to a library.

Head Start, a program that helps girls and boys from low-income families get ready for school by providing education, good nutrition, health services and more, is woefully underfunded. Less than 45 percent of eligible children are enrolled in the program. Early Head Start, geared to children from birth to three, is in even worse shape. Just four percent of eligible children are enrolled in that program.

Like most parents, my husband and I were our daughters’ first teachers. We read to them. We talked and sang to them. All of that contributed to their brain development and helped start them on a positive path.

And while we continue to guide and support Amelia, she really flourished in preschool. She soaked up every new experience. Her teachers skillfully moved her from singing ABCs to reading simple books. They took her from counting to ten to doing subtraction.

As I walked out of Amelia’s classroom and waved one last goodbye, I knew she was nervous and maybe a little bit scared. But she’ll likely succeed due in part to her preschool experience.

I want all kids in the United States to have the same chance to attend a quality preschool that Amelia had. And, by using your voice, you can help expand access to high-quality preschool programs. Ask your members of Congress to invest in programs like Head Start. Then ask your friends to do the same.

Millions of children are counting on us. Let’s give them a strong start to life.

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Diana Onken is the Director of Mobilization at SCAN. She has more than 19 years of experience in generating grassroots action in support of issues and candidates. An Illinois native, Diana earned an undergraduate degree in English Studies from Illinois State University followed by a graduate degree in public administration from the University of Maryland. She lives in Central Illinois with her husband and two young daughters.